I’m the Judge of You

I don’t judge you based on your looks or how you dress.

I don’t judge you based on your job title, resume, salary or your fancy college.

I don’t judge you based on your house, car you drive or the vacations you take.

I don’t judge you based on the accomplishments of your children or spouse.

I don’t judge you based on your family pedigree or your stylish friends.

I don’t judge you based on where you’re from or your accent.

I DO judge you based on what’s in your heart and whether you’re a good person.

And I know that you are filled with goodness, kindness and virtue, even if you are hiding your light behind your designer clothes, your important job, or your expensive car.

I still know it, even when you try to keep me from seeing it by hiding behind your arrogance, shyness, cockiness, hostility, aggression, indifference or anger.

The question is:  Do you know it too?


Loves Me, Loves Me Not

Serving others

Serving others

Are you a loving person?

I’m not talking about how you feel toward those you love.  I’m talking about what you do.

Love is an action word, characterized by what you do, not how you feel. How you feel love is passive love.  What you do that is loving is active love.

I’ve always had a certain conception of what active love is but wanted to see if I could find a little more clarity on the subject by going to the fount of all knowledge (Google, of course).  There is surprisingly little content available on the subject on Google.  The best definition I could find was from a Christian blog:

“Love is not simply warm feelings―it is instead an attitude that reveals itself in action. How can we love others as Christ loves us? By helping when it’s not convenient, by giving when it hurts, by devoting energy to other’s welfare rather than our own, by absorbing hurts from others without complaining or fighting back.” Biblebelievingchristians.com

The only thing I don’t like about this definition is that it implies a certain martyrdom, which I have spoken out against recently.  In fact, I don’t believe that active love means you give at your own expense, that is, if it’s emotionally or psychologically damaging to you such as making you feel resentful.   That makes you a martyr, not a loving person.  I think the best examples that illustrate this distinction come from parenting.

For instance, parenting is all about doing things that are difficult, tiring, or frustrating with a positive attitude.  Children require consistency and patience as they’re learning what the rest of us take for granted.  They do not instinctively understand it’s not OK to hit, throw things, or scream when they’re frustrated.  So it’s our job to reinforce that message in a kind, consistent manner, over and over and over and over again.  These messages cannot wait until we’ve had a good night sleep, our headache goes away, we’ve finished our dinner, have gotten home from the Home Depot, or when it’s convenient and preferable for us.  These messages require that we draw boundaries and even apply consequences to reinforce and teach the lesson in the moment that it is required.

Disciplining children is no fun at all.  In the moment, it might be easier to just buy that toy for the child to stop them from screaming, but all you’re doing is reinforcing the bad behavior by rewarding it.  As a result, the child will scream louder and longer the next time she wants something. We do not discipline and teach our children because we want to be nice or to be a martyr.  Similarly, we do not play with them, change diapers, driving to soccer practice because we’re being nice.  We do this labor of love because we love them and it’s in their best interest in the long run to learn self-control and proper behavior, to have a clean bottom, to learn about the world and their place in it.

The importance of teaching children these lessons in a kind and empathic manner cannot be overstated. If we resort to our own inclinations for childish behavior – screaming, spanking, blaming – to teach maturity, our children will rightfully view us as hypocrites and the lessons will be lost and even resented.  It is not active love if we are doing the right thing but in a harmful, self-indulgent way.

So active love is not just for lovers.  Nor is it just for family members or friends.  Active love can be used for everyone and everything in our lives.

My definition of active love is to do the right thing for a person or organization, no matter how hard or difficult it is.  I choose to give that love if I can do so freely, without resentment or expectation for reward, or I choose to decline if the personal cost is too high.  Again, doing something while feeling resentment isn’t loving.

For a work colleague, active love means having a difficult conversation with them about how a project did not go well and what we can each do to improve the next time.  For my house cleaner, it means telling them what is going well and where improvement is needed, rather than just firing them without explanation.  For my students, it means enforcing the consequences of cheating, not studying or working hard, and letting a bad grade or other consequences stand.  It also means, for my students, that I stay late and answer questions or tutor students that need additional help, even if I feel I’m too busy or tired.   For my organization, it means speaking out against unfair policy and procedure.  It also means working to change the organization for the better even if it’s not something that I’m promoted or recognized for.

Active love is critically important in intimate relationships.  Active love means that if I see a loved one engaging in self-destructive, hurtful or harmful behavior, that I talk to them about it, even if it means risking conflict.  It also means that I empathize with their situation without encouraging or rewarding the behavior in any way.  Hardest for me is to let it go after that – no nagging or complaining about it.  An easier path would be to just say nothing or just complain, neither of which is helpful or effective.

Our primary, intimate relationship is also there to help us grow up.  We choose our romantic relationships based on our childhood wounds.  Actively loving our partner and giving them the soothing, healing type of love that THEY need is simultaneously healing for ourselves.  In this scenario, we are also the beneficiaries of the active love we give.

Turns out, giving to others – our time, our money – generates happiness, much more so than indulging ourselves. More money does not make us happier.  Giving to others does.  (Michael Norton, How to Buy Happiness)

In each scenario, it’s easier to do nothing, to say nothing, to give in, to indulge myself.   Yes, I might be more popular and viewed as “nice” if I did nothing, said nothing, gave in.  But that is not the right thing, the loving thing, to do.


Active Love Exercise – per  Dr. Oz


“Use this tool when someone angers you, when you find yourself reliving a personal injustice, whether it was recent or in the distant past, or when you are preparing to confront a difficult person.



1. Concentration: Feel your heart expand to encompass the world of infinite love surrounding you. When it contracts back to normal size, it concentrates all this love inside your chest.


2. Transmission: Focus on the other person and send all the love from your chest to them, holding nothing back.


3. Penetration: When the Love enters the other person, feel it enter; sense a oneness with them. Now, if you relax you’ll feel all the energy you gave away returned to you.” 

Cultivate Your Inner Byotch/SOB

Cooperative versus assertive

Cooperative versus assertive

A friend recently told me that he was passed up for a juicy position because he was not assertive enough.  In other words, he was too nice.

I am not hindered by nice.  Nice is waaayyyy overrated.

Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with being nice per se.  And I’m as nice as the next gal.

Well, maybe I’m not.  You might say that I’m unequivocally, inarguably not-nice (and I believe others have, in fact, said that).  Here’s what I mean:

  • I self advocate – If someone is mistreating or ignoring me, I don’t just let it slide, with “Oh they’re doing their best,” or “He didn’t mean it.”  Nope. Not that those things aren’t necessarily true, and indeed, I give them the benefit of the doubt, but it doesn’t mean that person isn’t going to hear from me.   I don’t mean I’m going to make a scene or be nasty, but they will understand that they’ve crossed a boundary.  I will also say what I want or believe while trying to make decisions with others.  In this area, nice people are so easy to get along with: “Whatever you want to do!”  That’s not my style – I’d rather we find something we both like, rather than always doing what I want.  I want to be influenced and learn from others.  We can’t do that if we’re always doing it one person’s way.
  • I advocate for others – There are certain people and things that I am responsible for.  Therefore, it is my duty to advocate for and protect them.  So if those people or things are not being treated or handled properly, someone will hear from me.  I refuse, for example, to tell my kids to suck it up because I don’t want to have a necessary conversation with the teacher or principal.  I won’t let the program or the students I direct suffer because I might seem too pushy with an administrator. Tough toenails, as they say.  Just because someone isn’t doing their job doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t do mine either.
  • I adhere to my principles – It’s sometimes difficult to adhere to principles and avoid conflict at the same time.  Sometimes your principles need an advocate and they are more important than being nice.  For example, if someone makes a sexist, abusive or racist comment, it is important to say, “That’s not funny.  In fact, that’s pretty offensive,” rather than risk hurting someone’s feelings.  Failing to speak up implies assent and that’s a much worse infraction than telling someone how you feel.
  • I don’t get resentful or smug – Resentment is the enemy of nice but the inevitable result of not self-advocating or sticking to principles.  Yes, I may have pleased someone by avoiding a possible confrontation, but at what cost?   If I am too nice/selfless then I’m not being true to my Self.  Like the budget deficit, I have essentially kicked that de-Self problem down the road, and the interest  is a growing resentment or being smug/superior/martyr.  That resentment comes out eventually in other ways – stonewalling, being overly emotional, “forgetting” to do things, sharp tones, slips of the tongue, and so forth.  Resentment leaks out like toxic waste, polluting everything in shooting range.  I’d rather just say what I think, get it out and over with, rather than expecting someone to guess what I need.  Maybe my needs are obvious to me, but they’re not written on my forehead.

The other main way that being too nice can manifest is in being a martyr or acting smug.   So, I’ll do what you want because you’re a needy, irrational child, and I’m the wise, in-control adult who is selfless and virtuous.   Like resentment, martyrdom and smugness also leak out, but as condescension, self-pity, arrogance or superiority.  Again, I’d rather just say what I need rather than have to deal with those emotions.

To me, those emotions of resentment and martyrdom are like lies.  When you tell a lie, then you have to tell more lies to maintain that façade.  To cultivate the mantle of resentment or martyrdom requires more resentment and martyrdom (“What’s wrong?,” “Oh, nothing REALLY (you’re just demanding, selfish and inconsiderate)”), and maintaining those mistresses is expensive psychologically, emotionally, and energy-wise.

  • I prefer relationships that have a partnership dynamic – All of the above simply result in an unspoken power play.  Again, this is just too much work and energy.  It’s easier for two people to say what they want, what they think, negotiate and follow up if necessary, and assume each is acting in good faith.  By being nice and avoiding conflict, I am not trusting the other to engage in an adult, open communication process. I am writing them off before even giving them a chance to show they can act in a mature and fair manner.  That’s not fair to them, and it’s bad news for healthy relationships, for it’s impossible to be in an intimate relationship when the participants lack authenticity.  There’s the irony:  conflict avoidance is believed to preserve relationships but in fact, it undermines relationships.  Perhaps conflict avoidance maintains superficial relationships rather than fostering relationships based on authenticity.
  • I am not going to be liked by some people no matter what I do – There are some people with whom I have gone out of my way to help, accommodate, affirm, support and sought to understand, and they still hate/dislike me.  I don’t use the word “hate” readily, but for instance there is one person who has said that he believes I’m incompetent and should be fired despite all of the above.  Fortunately for me, that is a (I hope, hugely) minority opinion where I work.

I have learned over the years and have written about previously* that sometimes a person’s feelings are more a reflection of their own emotional world rather than having anything to do with me.  It’s not all about me!  Therefore, they may approach the world with negativity, judgment, criticism, self-hate, self-loathing and anger, and those feelings may be projected upon others.  No amount of niceness will change that, so I don’t really feel any need to try to please that person.  They’ll hate me for trying to please them.  So I don’t try but I also don’t take it personally.  I wish them peace and healing on their emotional journey as they are managing much internal pain.

So find your inner byotch/SOB, temper her/him with forgiveness and compassion, and go bravely forth navigating your complex world leading with your authentic self.  People will still like and even love you if you are not overly nice.  In fact, you may be surprised that they may like you more, in some ways.

* I’m Rubber and You’re Glue, (Not so) Great Expectations

Who Do You Love?

I have been the victim of verbal and emotional abuse most of my life.

I went from being a carefree, happy child to one without confidence or self-esteem.  It started around middle school.

Since then, she’d tell me how awful, unattractive, terrible, unworthy and stupid I was.

She would tell me that I wasn’t doing enough, that I needed to work harder to take care of others instead of being so selfish.

She laughed at me when I told her I was exhausted or stressed, and that my responsibilities were more important than my rest or exercise. That I shouldn’t do the things I needed to do for myself because others and other things were more important.

When I wanted to buy something, she sneered and said it was a waste of money and the things I liked were unimportant.  She said I shouldn’t ask for these things because I wasn’t worth the money.

If I was unhappy or my body was feeling the consequences of neglect, she ignored me and told me how I felt was irrelevant. I learned that sharing my feelings was a waste of time:  no one cared.

This treatment had been going on for so long that I never realized it was wrong and that I should stand up for myself.  I took the abuse without complaint.  Worse, I believed it.

One day, I realized I was worthy and lovable even though I was flawed, and that I didn’t deserve this treatment.  That no one deserves this treatment.  That my flaws did not make me a bad person, they made me human.  I grew a spine, and decided to finally put an end to it.

So I looked in the mirror and said, “I forgive you.”

I never allowed myself to speak that way to myself again.

Now, I am doing the opposite.  I’m being the lover and caregiver for me that I need me to be.

I remind myself that I am deserving and lovable, then celebrate my good qualities.   I take time to really feel and savor that appreciation, I don’t just say it to myself quickly in my head.  The areas that need improvement are growth opportunities that I embrace, not criticize.  I believe that growth is part of the human journey and that I will never arrive at my destination.  And that is how it is meant to be.

It’s still hard, but I try to spend a little money without guilt on things that give me great pleasure .

I take the time and effort to listen to the soft, wise voice that hides behind my thoughts.  Quiet time, journaling, and meditation elicit that voice and I value what it tells me.  It reflects the authentic Susanna without the rationalizations of my left brain.

I now have good boundaries – in other words, I have appropriate, healthy expectations of and relationships with others.  I work hard to care for others, but not at the expense of myself.  I make sure to give myself enough time to rest, reflect, socialize, meditate, exercise, eat right, and have fun.  If a medical problem arises, I attend to it right away.  I ask for help from others if I need it, and I savor my gratitude for the gift of love they return.

Since I am my own primary lover and caregiver, I also expect less of others. Good boundaries means I don’t need other people to make me feel whole or OK.  I don’t have a big void that I expect others to fill or fix for me. My self-esteem does not rise and fall based on my stuff, my appearance, or from the affirmations or criticisms of other people.  Instead, others enrich my world, like the chocolate and caramel swirls and cookie dough chunks in my Häagen-Daaz vanilla bean ice cream.

I also don’t try to make others feel whole. I can’t do it for them, but I try to help them on their journey by listening to their soft inner voice and sharing the wisdom from mine.

If someone else tries to emotionally or verbally abuse me, I don’t believe what they say, so their words have no power over me.  I share my boundaries by saying that they’re entitled to their opinion but it’s not OK for them to talk to me that way.  If they don’t respect my wishes then I engage with them as infrequently as possible since I don’t have to expose myself unnecessarily to their negativity and abuse.  I don’t judge them either for I believe they are doing their best, and I wish them peace and wisdom on their journey.

From what I have heard from and observed in others, I am not alone in this journey, though I now may be farther down the road than some.   Do you share this journey with me?  If so, in what ways are you being the abuser, not the lover/caregiver?

Give and receive what you need

Give and receive what you need

Life Is A Beauty Pageant

Honey Boo Boo and her Mom

Honey Boo Boo and her Mom

I had a dream the that I was asked to emcee a beauty pageant at the last minute and I was horribly unprepared.  As you can imagine, it was not pretty (haha).   At least I was not a contestant.  I’d much rather feel unprepared than come in last in a beauty pageant.

Actually, I’ve had far worse:  Being picked last for the kickball team.  Not that I blame any of those kids (how DID they always get to be the ones picking?) since if I saw myself back then, I wouldn’t pick me either.  Skinny and terrified,  I looked like I’d run away screaming from the ball if it came at me.  It didn’t take long though for them to realize that I was actually a Bad Ass kickball player.  I was never picked last again.

So I learned a valuable lesson at an impressionable age: sometimes we’re judged based on little or wrong information.  Therefore, I should not take these decisions personally.

A similar lesson was learned when I moved from Texas to California in the 80’s.  In Texas, I was completely invisible, especially to the opposite sex.  In California, that completely changed, and in fact, I was suddenly of some interest to the males there.   There was nothing magically more interesting/attractive/relevant about me when I crossed the border into California.  It was the Caucasian/blonde/blue beauty standards that changed, not me. Perception is subjective and relative, and not for me to take as some personal indictment.

So many life decisions are made for us in this manner by others.  School admissions, prospective employers, prospective mates or friends, scholarship or grant reviewers, award committees, publishers, and yes, beauty pageants are comprised of people making decisions and judgments about us based on incomplete, biased, or even inaccurate, information.

Yet we take them so personally. “I’m such a failure; I’m unwanted; I’m unattractive; I’m inferior;  I’m not good enough”.  At the same time, we may also dismiss the positive outcomes as having nothing to do with us. “I got lucky; The others were losers; He’s only interested in me because of …; They felt sorry for me.”  Either way, we find yet one more way to engage in destructive, self-limiting self-talk.

There are certainly situations where I was not selected because I wasn’t as good, as qualified, as accomplished, as pretty as the chosen one.  But most of the time, I feel that if I’m not selected, it’s truly because I was not a good fit for what they were looking for, and the outcome was as it should’ve been.

I wrote previously about how romantic chemistry has to do with finding someone who replicates your childhood wounds.  Therefore, if a male is not interested in me that way, it’s  partially because we are not a good fit.  He is not the yin to my emotional yang or visa versa.  Not a good fit, and not because I’m unattractive or flawed.  It also does not mean that I give up on trying to look my best when I leave the house or work to make myself a more interesting person.

Employers similarly are looking for a person who provides the skill set needed and fits their workplace culture. For example, I may be a shy person who prefers to write, but they may need someone outgoing who is a good talker.  A poor skill and personality fit means it would be difficult for me to be successful there.  Not a good fit, and not because I’m incompetent.  It also does not mean that I quit trying to build my skill set.

A school who does not want to admit me may be looking primarily for the best academic talent and my strengths are… elsewhere.  If academics aren’t my strongest suit, I would struggle in an environment that was so academically competitive.  Not a good fit, and not because I’m stupid.  It also doesn’t mean I stop trying to bring up my grades or hone my other talents.

Or instead of continuing to improve myself, I can just believe these decisions confirm that I’m a worthless human being, feel sorry for myself, and go on a chocolate binge.

I look back on the forks in the road of my life and sometimes wonder, “What if…?”  I don’t really know if the universe, fate, karma, or God leads us down certain paths.  However, I do know that the cumulative Yes and No decisions made on my behalf have led me to where I am now, and that place is pretty awesome.  Things have worked out pretty well despite the multitude of No’s and rejections, because there have also been plenty of Yes’s and acceptances too.  I don’t take those rejections personally any more than I take any of the successes too seriously.

I do believe that things “work out” in the end.  I also believe that the odds for a good outcome are vastly improved if I approach the process with a positive, open-minded attitude and am dedicated to finding the silver lining in a setback.   So the next time I’m asked to emcee a beauty pageant unprepared, I’ll be grateful that I’m asked only to employ my communication, positivity and relational talents on the fly, not something difficult like walking without falling while sporting 4 inch heels.

Change Agent, You

Putting yourself out there

Putting yourself out there

If you knew me in my 20’s you know I was a hot mess.  Being a mess, however, is a great incentive to make some changes, and oh boy, have I had incentive and opportunity!     Maybe you have that incentive and opportunity right now, just like I still do.

Those that knew me in my 20’s would think I was shy, lacking confidence, afraid to speak up.  Those that know me now pretty much laugh when I tell them I was that way.  I’ve learned a few things about change over the years as I have been experimenting with it for some time.

I have learned that some changes are easy – they just require an Aha moment or change in perspective.  Others feel like you’re standing on the edge of the proverbial cliff, choosing between the inevitable fall or the mid-air, windmilling feet moment, each option lasting a painful eternity.

I have also learned that change is not always easy, but gets easier with practice.  So, regardless of the outcome, the exercise itself is well worthwhile.

If you are in the pre-contemplation stage of change, you are considering doing something different or new.  Congratulations!  Good for you!  I hope you will choose to make the change that you are contemplating before hitting rock bottom or letting the situation completely degenerate.  If so, you are wiser and braver than I have been.

Here’s some advice for those who are considering a change.  Maybe this will make it easier to move into the execution stage so that you can have some control over the change as opposed to having it forced upon you.

1.  Consider the real consequences of making a change – Not the ones you fear deep down. Most of us catastrophize the outcome:  I’m going to look or sound really stupid!  I’m going to make a mistake! Well, welcome to the real world.  If you’re making a mistake, it means you’re taking a risk.  Risk and failure are pre-requisites for success, so good for you!  As for those who will judge you for looking or sounding stupid, they are pretty much hypocrites, since who has not looked or sounded stupid at some point?  So you don’t need to worry about those hypocrites or nay-sayers.  The only judge that matters is your own, and you’re going to retire him for good.

Let’s take my shyness as an example. Talking to strangers made me feel deep down I was setting myself up for rejection.  But really, who cares if a stranger or acquaintance rejects me?  Likely I’ll never see them again and their judgment of me (another stranger) cannot really be taken personally.  They don’t know me!

2.  Consider the real consequences of not changing – If you’re contemplating a change than something is likely not going well.  What is the real consequence of doing nothing?  Take into account your anger, resentment, powerlessness, frustration and lost opportunity in this equation.

Being shy was standing in my way, both professionally and personally.  Networking and speaking up are important skills.  By caving to my shyness, I was doing myself a huge disfavor on all levels.  By being afraid of rejection I was ensuring I would be ignored.  Same thing. AND another self-fulfilling prophecy.

3.  Consider the opportunities of making the change –  What doors will you open for yourself?  What situations will you right?  Focus on the positives instead of letting your fears define what you’re willing or not willing to do.

Expanding my network both socially and professionally can potentially open up many doors in both spheres.  New friends and important professional contacts are just waiting for me to discover.  Speaking up means I could have a positive impact on the outcome instead of letting my opinions languish on the tip of my tongue.

4.  Take a small step – You don’t have to make all the change at once.  Just like any big endeavor, break it into small, manageable bites.  Test the water, experiment with that, re-evaluate and try again.  Be strategic about your approach, choosing a strategy that works best for you.

I used to really hate being in social situations, like cocktail parties, where I had to meet strangers.   I decided the approach that would feel most comfortable to me is to find the person in the room who looks uncomfortable too and introduce myself.  I reasoned that they’d be more likely to be receptive to meeting a stranger and also grateful to me for saving them from their own social discomfort.  Nine times out of 10, this has proved to be a successful strategy while simultaneously not making me feel like I was going out too much on a limb.

5.  Practice – Write it out, role play it, imagine the scenario in your head.  You wouldn’t enter into a competition without practice and repetition, so why would you stick your neck out for a long awaited change without practice?  Give yourself the best possible chance for a good outcomeiby preparing for it.  You’ll also feel more confident going forward with practice.  Practice until it feels rote and automatic and it will be almost as if you’ve already made the change.

“Hi, my name is Susanna and I’m a ____ at _____.   How about them ‘Niners?  How is the crab dip?  Do you think biological drug discovery will be driven more by technology or market demand?  Say…. What is that stain on your tie? ”

6.  Forgive yourself and others – We are all just doing our best to be our best.  It’s not always a pretty or linear journey.  Forgive yourself and others for the detours we must all take at some point.  Sometimes the detours are the best part.

7.  Commit to being a change agent – Get into the habit of doing things that make you uncomfortable.  Your friends will think you’re courageous, but it will just be habit for you at that point!

I don’t believe in change for change’s sake.  But I do know that you sometimes don’t know what you’re missing until you try something new.  I could not do my job effectively today if I did not overcome my shyness.  I also cannot count the number of times that I have been glad I spoke up or made the effort to meet someone new.  There have been times when I felt stupid or awkward but the positive outcomes far outweigh the failures.

I also personally wouldn’t wish perfection on my worst enemy – growth is what keeps us vital and alive.  Nourish yourself and don’t be afraid of the growth that occurs.  The beautiful you that emerges may surprise and delight you.

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” – Serenity Prayer, Reinhold Niebuhr

New growth

New growth

(Not So) Great Expectations

When I was 21-years old, I let my Dad take my hard-earned babysitting money and pick out my first car for me.  He felt that was his role as my father, and I let him. Not surprisingly he selected a grandfatherly, copper colored, 5 door behemoth instead of the cute 5-speed Toyota.   Though I had enough money to purchase a car, I did not have money for any repairs that the car might need if it were a lemon.  The potential for “I told you so” and the guilt for picking a lemon were beyond what I was willing to endure, so I acquiesced to my Dad’s expectation that he should make this decision that should’ve been mine.

This is a small example of how I succumbed to another’s expectation regarding the choices in my life.   And it seems crazy to let someone else make a decision for you, as an adult, about your own life or money.  Yet it seems to happen all the time, and involving both big and small decisions.  Each time we let others decide for us our choices, priorities or how we feel, we are giving away bits of our power and ourselves.   It’s important to note that sometimes we are asked to give away our power, sometimes we do so because of a perceived request or expectation.

Not all expectations are bad.  You may know from the education and child development literature that children rise to meet high expectations, so we should continue to have them.  Expecting children to be well-behaved, smart and talented sets an appropriately high bar, as long as the standards are flexible enough to accommodate their individuality.  So, in some cases, having high expectations is a positive, good thing that helps others achieve their potential.

But expectations can be harmful when they are unreasonable, unrealistic, or reflect the wishes or emotional state of the parent rather than what’s right for the child (this distinction is often difficult to determine).   For example, a parent may expect their child to be a star athlete or popular, when the child hates athletics or is painfully shy.  If a parent is a perfectionist, they may believe that they must be perfect to feel OK.  They may either model that expectation for their children, and/or expect their children to be perfect too.   Perfectionists may be overly defensive or overly sensitive to criticism, depending on whether their denial of their infallibility is directed outward or inward.

Unfortunately, as children, we do not have the life experience to know or understand the impact of these expectations or even whether they are fair or reasonable.  Therefore, that message is often internalized and then subconsciously defines the child’s reality.   Such expectations can come from friends, peers, family members, or from cultural expectations, they need not necessarily come from a parent.   When such expectations are present at such a young age, the child simply accepts them as a fact of life, that they must give away their dreams and their sense of self to feel OK, acceptable, and safe too.

Poor me. Poor baby.  Poor us. We were so mistreated.

Yes, it’s UNFAIR.  But at some point, we must decide for ourselves in what we choose to believe and what values and principles we subscribe to.  Children don’t have that self-awareness or maturity, but as we adults we can and should know better.

We don’t have to keep these expectations in our subconscious and let their invisible strings rule our lives.  We do not have to believe or internalize our own or others’ unfair expectations.  We don’t have to give power to someone else’s unkind words or expectations.

Just because someone tells me that I should be smart/subservient/deferential because I’m Asian/female/middle-aged/whatever does not make it true. It’s easy for me to laugh it off because it’s of course ridiculous.  But what happens when someone tells me something that I actually believe?  If I subconsciously believe I’m inferior to other people, and then if I’m told that I’m stupid or incompetent, then those words HURT.  I will feel terrible about myself, hate myself, and believe I’m unworthy instead of just saying “whatever, dude.”  When I do, I give my power to someone else and reaffirm my self-limiting beliefs.

In other words, the harsh words, criticisms and judgments of others only have power if you believe them already.

The same problem may arise if you believe someone else is judging or criticizing you, even if they have not said a word.  The tone of their voice, their choice of words, their facial expression might convey to you their disappointment.   There are at least two problems with this scenario.  First, if we believe that the world is judgmental and critical, we will see judgment and criticism everywhere, whether it is present or not (previously discussed in Our Self-(Un)fulling Reality).   You may have completely misread that person’s thoughts and intentions because the judgment and criticism you were feeling were coming from you.  Second, if you don’t believe their so-called judgment, then it would not upset you anyway (same as above).  So, now you’ve given away your power to the voice from your past and blaming your feelings on someone else.

Nice job.

The real and perceived expectations of others can prevent us from living authentically, guided by our own passion and principles.  If we let them.  Those expectations can impede our ability to form authentic relationships with others, for living selflessly means we are not living as our true Self.  Those expectations can create a heavy and sad burden that confines our lives within the boundaries of our fear instead of our joy.   If we let them.

There is an up-side to living according to someone else’s expectations:  you never have to take responsibility for your own actions and choices.  This is the safer choice if the fear of failure or disapproval is devastating to you.

But at what cost?

Ask yourself:  what is wrong with failure?  Failure is necessary if you are to take risks, and you must take risks to be successful.  And I’ve learned someone will always disapprove of me no matter how hard I try to please them.  Rather, it’s their responsibility to please themselves.

Me?  I now make my own choices and suffer my own consequences.  I’m financially independent now, so I’ll never let someone buy my car for me again.  I no longer subscribe to the unhealthy fantasy of control and perfection, whether coming from someone else or my inner demons.   I’d rather live on my own terms at whatever cost, rather than jump through  endless hoops, real or perceived, from others.  My life may not be perfect, but at least it’s MINE.


Gratitude – More Than a Feeling

I’m grateful for my gratitude, and not because it just has me feeling good.  Research shows that people who are grateful are happier, more satisfied, hopeful and optimistic, less depressed and anxious.  Grateful people also sleep better and are more socially connected.  Generally, people who exhibit positivity are more creative, energetic and more intelligent resulting in 37% better performance (Shawn Achor, TED.com).  For you science geeks, these positive effects are believed to be mediated by increased dopamine levels.

Not only am I grateful but I’m fortunate to have a natural inclination for gratitude.  If gratitude does not come naturally to you, you can intentionally increase your gratitude in the following ways:

  1.  Journal – 3 minutes per day about new things you’re grateful for.  Do this for 21 days and you can make your brain more grateful.
  2. Write a letter – write and deliver a letter of gratitude to someone you want to thank.  The more you do this, the better!
  3. Thank people – look for opportunities to thank people, for big and small things. Say it sincerely, look them in the eye.  Sales/customer service people, custodial staff, administrative staff are most often overlooked.
  4. Have a savor ritual – I use the mundane, mindless arts of my day to savor the things I’m grateful for.    For example, whenever I am in the restroom, I reflect on how grateful I am to have running water, plumbing, electricity and shelter!  Much of the world does not enjoy these amenities.

Also, though I have been doing the same drive and 2 block walk to work for 20 years, each day the experience is completely different.  It’s not a beautiful commute by most standards but I find it gorgeous. Here are some photos from my commute – the types of things I notice and savor.  This was not a particularly special day meteorologically or otherwise, unless you make it so.

Try it!  You’ll be grateful you did.

Our Differences, Our Assets

Flex your strength

Flex your strength

It took me years, but I finally figured out why certain people drive me crazy and how those traits are actually assets that I should try to emulate. This is not rocket science folks, but some people are a little slow on the pick-up.

You probably have heard of the most famous personality type assessment, the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI), but there are several good tests available.  They identify the common personality types and talents that exist within each of us.  According to these tests, each of us can be described by an amalgam of different strengths and personality types.  Our unique combination of strengths helps make each of us unique.  But understanding those personality types, their strengths and drawbacks can also help us to better understand and appreciate ourselves and one another.

Types of Intelligence – For instance, you may know there are different types of intelligences.  For example, in addition to the traditional intelligence quotient (IQ), there is also kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”), verbal intelligence (“word smart”), introspective intelligence (“self smart”) and so on.  If you’re not IQ smart, then you may think you’re dumb when you actually may be the equivalent of Einstein when it comes to music (musical intelligence), dealing with people (interpersonal intelligence), or one of the other types of intelligence.   Our school system tends to focus somewhat exclusively on IQ, math and verbal intelligence and in so doing, fails to value and develop much of the human potential in our young people.

MBTI – MBTI is a personality assessment that identifies people based on whether, for example, they gain energy from people (extrovert, E) or from being alone (introvert, I) (a common misconception is that this has to do primarily with whether or not someone is outgoing) or whether they make decisions based on feelings and emotions (F) or by thinking (T).  As a T, I could never understand why we would discuss people’s feelings when making decisions.  What is the possible relevance?  How is that fair?  I have since come to appreciate the value of the F approach in certain situations –  it is sometimes a more fair and compassionate approach than the old by-the-rules strategy.  My F friends think I found a heart.

The Judging (J)/Perceiving (P) axis defines whether we tend to be more comfortable with closure and decisions (J) versus keeping options open (P).  The latter used to be frustrating to me, “can’t we just DECIDE and MOVE ON people!?” or “let’s not wait until the last minute to start this project, OK?”     I, in turn, would annoy my P colleagues because they might feel I was being too hasty.   Since then, more than once I have looked back and wished that I had waited before coming to a decision or closure, as sometimes new opportunities or information have become available in the interim. Now, I make a conscious effort to not rush into a decision, and I no longer view waiting as a liability but an asset.

Same is true with the Intuitive (N)/Sensing (S) axis.  As someone who is fairly big picture (N), the details are often frustrating to me.  Sensing folk like details and want to talk details.  Rather than get annoyed by that, I look to them as my savior:  I ask them to identify and manage the important details, as opposed to letting them fall between the cracks.  Note that my inability to manage details likewise would tend to drive them crazy.

Strengths – StrengthsFinders 2.0 and the Authentic Happiness are strength-based tests that identify 34 and 24 categories of talents, respectively.  Understanding the different strengths available in each of us is helpful to realize that every person has the potential to excel and contribute.  In doing so, we have then an obligation to find and appreciate our own strengths and the strengths of others, and to develop them.   Research in this field shows that when people develop and apply their strengths, they become more engaged, productive, creative and happier.  In addition, effective teams can also be designed based on matching the skills needed for the task to the people with the right talents.  So knowing yourself and others isn’t just a feel-good strategy.  It has actual and measurable benefits.

However, like the other personality traits we discussed, strengths may also be perceived as a weakness or annoyance if applied in the wrong context.  You might find, for example, another person’s competitiveness or need to achieve annoying when you’re trying to relax.  But like the MBTI traits, in other situations you may instead find those characteristics a desirable and useful asset.   You might judge your own ability to empathize as a heavy burden you do not want to carry, but that may be an undeveloped talent that you can use to follow your bliss.

We humans tend to judge others who are different from us.  We have a tendency to reject what we don’t understand.   When we do so, by only accepting only what is within our current but limited understanding, we also limit our ability to envision how we can grow and improve.  For example, if I can only value science and technology and traditional IQ intelligence, I may not even consider that I have other skills and talents worth developing.  My Ginger Rogers self will never be discovered.

By rejecting or judging what we don’t understand, we also fail to see the diversity of contribution of other perspectives and how those differences can also have value to our community or to our decision-making.   I already gave an example of how appreciating MBTI-type differences has improved my effectiveness.  Valuing the creative, artistic, intuitive and spiritual endeavors in addition to the scientific and technical makes our communities (and ourselves) more balanced, beautiful, and interesting, and in the end, happier, and more productive as well.

In addition, by failing to value other perspectives, we create artificial and unnecessary divisions between us rather than viewing those differences as a way to enrich our decision-making or our lives.

Every one of us has strengths and talents buried within that can be used to enhance ourselves and our communities.  We can tap into those strengths, follow our bliss and enjoy creativity and productivity, and self-actualization, or we can use those differences to reinforce our alienation from each other or from the richness within we have yet to discover.

In I’m Rubber and You’re Glue, I discuss how forgiveness and acceptance of the hidden parts of ourselves that we hate can help us to be whole.   Our strengths and personality types may also be hidden from us.  Ironically, acceptance and forgiveness likewise may be needed to allow our hidden strengths to emerge.  I was heavily and myopically invested in my left-brained, scientific side for so long, I had trouble identifying my other strengths and passions.  Now, I feel like I’m living the purpose for which I was placed on this Earth.

It’s an inner journey most worthwhile.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy” – William Shakespeare

I’m Rubber and You’re Glue…

What do you hate about yourself?

Me:  I hate that I will always have the little pot belly we all inherited from my Mom, that I can’t tell a joke to save my life, that I’m not detail-oriented, and I eat too much chocolate.

No, what do you REALLY hate about yourself?


How would you answer this question?  I know the way I would answer it now is extremely different from how I would’ve answered it 15 years ago.  Then, I would say that I hate having to take care of everyone with no one caring for me.  I hate feeling like life is out of control.  I hate feeling not good enough when someone says anything at all critical.  I hate feeling like I can never do a good enough job or do enough in general.  And I hate how everyone else is making me feel that way.

That would’ve been my honest answer if and when I allowed myself to feel and acknowledge those inner truths.  All you would’ve gotten from  me on most days was the first answer since it didn’t require me to face my inner demons or make me admit them aloud.   Both very scary endeavors for even the bravest of souls.

We all have this duality – who we present to the world (including ourselves) and who we are inside.   If there is a significant disparity between those two worlds, it means we are living without authenticity.  We might try to hide that inner world, but we’re not fooling anyone else. Those inner truths, whether they’re acknowledged or not, become self-fulfilling (or rather, self-(un)fulfilling) prophecies.  The more we are in denial about them, the greater the impact they are likely having on our lives.

The other irony about denial is how we then tend to blame others for our feelings or choices (“She is making me feel this way.  He is making me do this.”) The excellent ipledgeallegiance blog yesterday posted a story about how a judge escalated punishment each time a teenaged defendant showed disrespect.    The  judge, who also showed disrespect and even contempt for the sanctity of the judicial system, overreacted to the teenager’s disrespect.   This is a perfect example of projecting our self-hate onto someone else and then blaming them.  So, if I hate that I can’t show my vulnerability, then that trait in someone else might just set me off.  If I hate the need to feel in control, then I will criticize someone else for being controlling.  If I am feeling judged, it is my judgment of myself that hurts me, not someone else’s opinion of me.  By failing to acknowledge and forgive my own shortcomings and my feelings about my imperfection, I am giving power to my dark, hidden side.

So, the next time you get upset at someone or are tempted to judge them, look in the mirror.    You may be reacting to it because you’re guilty of the same thing and you have yet to accept or forgive yourself for your perceived weakness.

Then ask yourself:  Why not?  We are, after all, only human and the only one that can have a claim on perfection is God.  The rest of us are just messed up inside, no matter how much we may try to project otherwise.  Believe me, you’re in good company.  Present company included.

The other irony is that once you accept and forgive your human shortcomings, they lose their power over your life.  Instead, you give power to your authenticity, your light.

Finally, if you offer forgiveness and empathy to yourself for your struggle to accept your imperfection/humanity, you can forgive someone else for theirs.

It was a long, scary and difficult road before I was able to accept my imperfection/humanity.  There is much I want to work on, yes, but I don’t hate those parts of me.  How can I hate them?  My good cannot exist without my bad, my light cannot exist without my dark, my sweet cannot exist without my sour.  Who am I to judge any of that?  My journey is to find the wisdom to make the best of the hand I’ve been dealt and to try to “be the light that already resides in (me)”  (From Thank You Self ,The Other Side of Ugly blog).

“There is only one perpetrator of evil on the planet: human unconsciousness. That realization is true forgiveness. With forgiveness, your victim identity dissolves, and your true power emerges–the power of Presence. Instead of blaming the darkness, you bring in the light.”
― Eckhart Tolle,  A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose

Struggle for authenticity

Struggle for authenticity